Certain events strike emotions, sending lightening-electricity through the veins of my painful memories. The recent soggy rains and forceful winds reminded me of the time when gushing waters like clay soaked eels shortened the distance between me and the road. I was five or six years old; and I don’t know if the downpour enclosed the streets like the banks of the Chattahoochee before or after I ran out into the darkness, far and fast away from my mother and her tango with insanity.
We lived in an ill looking neighborhood full of rot and decay just off the square of Decatur. She was a real yellow Bungalow, unlike the blown-up and out Bungalows of today. Her yellow was like an ear of young corn picked before harvest. My mother and I lived on one side of the deep, duplex railroad layout-everything went straight back like a rectangle with a slanted roof. One room led to the next without pause. I slept between French-doors dividing the living- room from the kitchen with the black and white tiles. The kitchen with the irritable gas stove requiring the light of a match, followed by naive screams. Beyond the kitchen was the screened-in laundry porch, or (as it’s original use), “A sleeping porch.” However, I dreamed of future sweetness as I plucked cherry- red petals from thorns while rocking the backbone of the front porch swing.
On the broken sidewalk beyond the broad porch is where I learned to pedal without trainers. The tangled wind tickled my back as my mother chased behind, cheering. My kid bike was cornflower blue with a stripe like the gray in my eyes. That was a good day in my world of stringy hair and a freckled nose, broken dishes and hiding under cars in the night. The euphoria and my lifted cheeks were met by a gift from the sky flowing graciously like a ribbon of milky waterfalls. The parched asphalt absorbed the rain as the run-off pooled high above the curb becoming one with the brick toned earth. It was the first time I was cognizant of the pull beyond my realm, as the python-rivers licked away at my knobby knees. I was drawn to the rapids but my wide eyes knew better than to take more of my share.
My little being experienced the zip-line of heighted emotions and visceral awareness during our stay on Melrose Lane. One night I was in the middle room where I slept, playing my records on the 45 while dressing and undressing my Barbie dolls. Bright polyester with tiny buttons and narrow sleeves threading thin arms and miniature hands. Lifting and lowering the needle back to the start, until I heard her haunting, bone aching shrill. She was in the kitchen. I froze rigid. I stopped breathing. The echo of silence sliced by exchanges of broken plates, cups and saucers, and the manic rage violently vomiting from her lungs. My upward ears burned and my legs were bent and pulled in tight to my body as I waited for the hailing dishes to end. I exhaled notably as the momentum came to a slothful end. The oval of my chin was down, but my eyes and brows were up, opening and closing, lifting and lowering like an elevator for silent tears. And then again, with a tormented animal moan she spit foul poison as her words matched the pitch of drinking glasses sprayed against lifeless, unyielding tile. I was jolted by fear, as my mouth drooled and acid boiled below my esophagus.
I scrambled to the front room, the first room of our shoebox prison. I found the phone and I dialed (before the area code changed,) 404-938-4667, (Still in memory although she can’t be reached by phone anymore.) and waited on the prick of a pin for Maw Maw to pick up and cradle me through the ends of her obsolete rotary phone. I told her in my own way, and through the innocence of a child what my mom was doing. She told me to go get her and put her on the phone. I didn’t question her and my feet carried me towards my mother as my voice led the way. I told my mother, “I called Maw Maw on you and she’s on the phone!” My mother gathered herself from the shrunken, and mascara stained display. Maw Maw was that powerful and it worked, for the time being.
My mother managed to dry her tears, sweep up the edgy debris and pull herself together enough to console me and to convince Maw Maw that I was safe. Maw Maw was my father’s mother who died almost two years ago, the year I unraveled and uncoiled my way out of my useless, patterned skin. She was our matriarch, even my mothers to some degree, when I was young and they were in frequent contact. Her childhood knew the depression, outhouses, washboards, pig-lard soap and slop jars from actual sleeping porches, and the doors of the Clarkston Baptist church. In her adulthood she lost her twenty something daughter first to childbirth, and then a few years later I was born from her son. However, within seven years of her daughter’s death, the broken heart of her middle-aged husband (Paw Paw) couldn’t go on, so she lost him too, his heart just stopped while she snored in the other room. She was strong in every sense of the word, and to say that she was jaded and protective over me is an understatement.
In her prime she stood 5.8 or 5.9 inches tall, she played high-school basketball, driving the ball down the court with her powerful hips. Her mother’s family was of Cherokee decent, and her father was French. Her limbs were like silk vines with delicate shoulders and smooth skin. She wore cat-eye glasses over the marriage of storm green, and confederate blue eyes. She was calm, yet not to be dealt with as she spoke her mind in the southern, nice manners way. She was quick witted and kind, but no one dare cross her. She tempered smart jokes forming a shield of armor around her buried grief. She remained alone aside from the weekends that she had me. Until I was around sixteen, we faithfully followed a visitation schedule of every other Friday night through Saturday midday together. I like to think I added richness to her life, and a reason to move on from her despair. I give her credit for why I am “normal.” The self serving part of me claims I stayed on the straight path for her, but the searching part of me wonders if losing her left me void of a close, blood thick female relationship. With most things, the lines are blurred.
She was my constant, and she was an influential force in the youth of my mother’s life, but nothing and no one could really ever control her. It’s saddens me to think about a child enduring that sort of disproportionate stress, but my mother was young and wasn’t able mentally, or emotionally to fully be there for me. Maybe that’s why I protected them both by keeping quiet about what else happened later the night my mother smashed the dishes.
We hung up the phone and my mother told me that everything was OK, and then she went still. I either went to sleep or didn’t go to bed at all, eventually she loaded me into the back of her car feeling the sting of autumn wind in the air. I could tell by her intensity as she turned the ignition that something gruesomely exciting was about to happen. Linda Ronstadt was blaring from her car radio, she sang along with a lover’s fury. “You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good; baby you’re no good.” To be continued.